Behind the title: Yesterday, we looked back at Butler’s 1981 NJCAA title team. Today, it’s Butler’s 1998 NJCAA title team – the one that shocked the nation with an upset of No. 1 Ricks (now BYU-Idaho) in front of almost 12,000 at the Real Dairy Bowl. How foreign was the national stage for the Grizzlies at this point? Most of the players had to purchase special, flat-bottomed shoes to play on the turf at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho. Tailback Rudi Johnson was a freshman on this team and rushed for almost 700 yards in the three playoff games (all 8 teams used to make league playoffs) and the Grizzlies rallied from second-half deficits six times for victories. It was the first NJCAA title for the Jayhawk since Coffeyville won in 1990 and ended a string of Jayhawk teams coming up short when playing for the title – Garden City twice and Coffeyville once … which leads us to our next point: There were no official title games at this point. Butler received 106 votes in the final NJCAA poll – just one more than Jones County (Miss.).
Game story and box score from the title game after the jump.
ALLEN PICKS HIMSELF UP, TOSSES TITLE BUTLER’S WAY
By ADAM KNAPP
The Wichita Eagle
POCATELLO, Idaho – Butler County quarterback Josh Allen was driven to the hard artificial turf again. Only this time, much to the alarm of his teammates, he didn’t bounce back up.
It was the third quarter of the Real Dairy Bowl on Friday night, a game being played against No. 1-ranked Ricks (Idaho). Allen was hurting. He was taken out for a few plays after smashing his funny bone .
Allen estimates he had only 50 percent feeling in his arm when he made the throw that gave Butler a 22-18 victory and an unlikely national championship.
It was late in the fourth quarter, only 5 1/2 minutes left. Butler was down 18-15 and had just gotten a little breathing room after being pinned back at its own 1-yard line.
The play was called a Z post. Damon Richardson was the receiver.
“My biggest fear,” Allen said, “was that I was going to overthrow him.”
“Wouldn’t have happened tonight,” Richardson said. “This turf makes me feel faster than I already am.”
Allen said the throw felt good leaving his hand, at least from what he could tell, and the ball traveled downfield with a high, lazy arc.
“Felt like it was up there for an hour,” Butler coach James Shibest said.
Richardson, Butler’s fastest receiver, slowed down just enough to catch the ball over his shoulder in stride.
“We thought it would be a good play,” Richardson said. “There was man coverage and no safety.”
Actually, there was. Richardson just didn’t remember the safety, who had forgotten about his coverage and instead went after Butler tailback Rudi Johnson, who was on his way to a 180-yard rushing night.
“(Richardson) was supposed to be double-covered,” said Ricks coach Ron Haun. “But our safety fell asleep thinking about Johnson.”
The rest is now history. Richardson ran the rest of the way for a 65-yard touchdown to win the game. Only 10 minutes after it ended, Richardson estimated at least 50 people had told him “nice catch.”
“It wasn’t hard to catch,” Richardson said. “All these people should be saying ‘great throw’ instead of ‘great catch.’ But that’s OK – I’ll take the credit.”
Allen said the throw wasn’t that difficult, either.
“By then, all the defensive attention was on Rudi,” Allen said. “Rudi Johnson, and our offensive line, allowed me to make that throw to Damon.”
Allen forgot to mention Shibest, who had the option of not even allowing Richardson to play. Richardson and defensive end Junis McDowell, both starters, sat out the first half after breaking academic team rules.
“At halftime, our receivers were just dog tired,” Shibest said. “Not because they were out of shape, but because it had just been that kind of game. Then I look at Damon and he’s just as fresh as can be. So I told him, ‘Hey, you’re probably going to win this thing for us now.’ Little did I know I’d be right.”
Richardson caught three passes for 88 yards. Allen’s statistics were typically underwhelming: 10 of 25 passing, 169 yards, one touchdown, one interception. Then again, all Allen did this season was lead Butler to a 12-0 record.
“Josh isn’t an All-American,” Shibest said. “But he has the respect of his teammates, I guarantee you that. He got beat up pretty good tonight, and he came back every time.”
Ricks’ mammoth offensive line was a concern for Shibest, who feared his defensive front would be worn down by the second half. But Henry Mayberry and Willie Blade each had sacks to kill Ricks’ last drive of the game. They and McDowell, Jermaine Petty and Jared Page combined for seven of them.
“The people who are going to be overlooked are the defensive backs,” Shibest said. “But a lot of those sacks were coverage sacks because none of their guys were open. Our secondary had an outstanding game.”
Then there was Johnson, a freshman who gave the Grizzlies some much-needed ball control over pass-happy Ricks (10-1), which was denied its first championship.
“The Johnson kid was great,” Haun said. “We seemed to have a lot of trouble tackling him.”
Johnson scored two first-half touchdowns and had 35 carries, helping Butler keep the ball nearly 10 minutes longer (34:49) than Ricks (25:11).On the game-winning drive, it was Johnson’s 9-yard run on third-and-8 from the Grizzly 3 that may have saved the game for Butler, which overcame second-half deficits to six different teams this season.
“We’ve been down so many times, we knew how to respond to it and get the lead back,” Johnson said. “The difference was, this time we had to. We’d come so far to get here. We had to. No way could we lose this one.”
Shibest and his players agreed that this rally was the hardest. They’d not seen a team like Ricks before, a team that was so big at every position and that threw so often. The Vikings always seemed to have fresh receivers – Ricks had more than 100 players on its roster, while Butler had 53.
“They were a lot different than the teams we’d seen,” said Butler linebacker Eli Palmisciano, who with defensive back Jamie Hattley led the Grizzlies with seven tackles. “Pretty much the big thing with them is stopping the screens and the draw plays. They like to suck you in, and then throw it over your head.
“But our coaches did a great job of preparing us for that, just like they’ve done a great job all year.”
Butler 9 6 0 7 – 22
Ricks 7 3 8 0 – 18
B – Rudi Johnson 18 run (kick failed), 12:19.
B – Adam Stiles 36 field goal, 7:26.
R – Steve Later 2 run (Mike Clark kick), :26.
B – Johnson 14 run (kick blocked), 10:00.
R – Clark 25 field goal, 0:00.
R – Ryan Harris 4 run (Later run), 8:00.
B – Damon Richardson 65 pass from Josh Allen (Stiles kick), 5:31.
Rushing – Butler: Johnson 35-180, Price 4-7, Guhr 1-2, Nesmith 3-(-3), Allen 7-(-24). Ricks: Later 5-27, Hyde 8-7, Harris 10-(-28).
Passing – Butler: Allen 10-25-1 169; Nesmith 0-1-0 0. Ricks: Harris 17-35-0 207.
Receiving – Butler: Nesmith 4-56, Richardson 3-88, Faust 2-25, Johnson 1-0. Ricks: Later 4-49, Anderson 3-65, Woolstenhulme 3-50, Nash 2-21, Morrison 2-9, Rex 1-5, Willis 1-5, Harris 1-3.